New F1 race directors praised after FIA switch away from Michael Masi

The arrival of Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas came as part of wider changes to race direction ahead of the 2022 season

Harry Latham-Coyle
Monday 16 May 2022 15:24
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<p>Niels Wittich, one of two race directors who replaced Michael Masi, has been praised for his work so far </p>

Niels Wittich, one of two race directors who replaced Michael Masi, has been praised for his work so far

Formula 1’s new race directors have been praised for a “very good start” to the 2022 season after the removal of Michael Masi.

Masi, who had been lead race director since 2019, lost the role after his part in the controversial ending to the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that allowed Max Verstappen to win his maiden world title.

The Australian was replaced by a two-pronged team of Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, assisted by the vastly-experienced Herbie Blash.

The refreshing of the race direction team came as part of wider changes, with team principals no longer afforded as direct access to the race director during the race.

Andreas Seidl, team principal at McLaren, has been pleased with the start that Wittich, who has served as race director at each of the first five races, in particular has made.

“Niels is quite straightforward in terms of making sure the rules get enforced,” Seidl said. “He’s also quite straightforward in terms of getting across what he’s expecting - and that’s what I personally like.

“At the same time, he’s always available for a dialogue and for constructive input as well if you think things need to be reconsidered.

“From this point of view, when I look now how these first races went, I think we are in a good place.”

An FIA investigation found that Masi had incorrectly applied regulations during his direction of the final laps of the season at the Yas Marina Circuit in December.

The 44-year-old allowed lapped cars between title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen to unlap themselves, clearing the way for the Dutchman to pass the Mercedes driver and secure both race and season victory.

Michael Masi was removed as F1’s race director earlier this year

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff has since described Masi as a “liability” and claimed that he refused to take on board advice and criticism, but Seidl, though finding Wittich and Freitas good to deal with, has suggested he did not have any issues with the axed race director.

Seidl continued: “I don’t want to compare to the past because from our point of view we have been very happy with the exchange or working relationship that we had also with the previous set-ups the FIA had.

“But from my point of view, the new set-up with Niels and also with Eduardo had a very good start going into this new era of Formula One.”

Wittich has helped to lead a tightening of existing jewellery regulations this season, a decision criticised by Hamilton as a “step backwards” during the Miami Grand Prix.

The 37-year-old was granted a two-race exemption after meeting with the FIA’s medical staff, a period that will encompass this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

However Hamilton may be forced to remove his jewellery entirely for the Monaco Grand Prix that follows the weekend after Barcelona.

Seidl believes the situation is another that the FIA have handled well.

“In the end, it’s a rule that’s in place for many, many years,” Seidl explained. “If you have worked in other categories, it’s not even a discussion. If you don’t like to take off your jewellery or you don’t want to put the fireproof underwear on, you just don’t drive. It’s quite straightforward and simple.

“From the FIA side, they offered again a dialogue for all kinds of situations where it might be a bit trickier to take the jewellery off for example.

“And that’s exactly what we are asking for and what we also like that we see - there is this open dialogue possible in order to find solutions.”

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